A watered down decision taken at a gathering of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee in Bahrain on June 28 could leave the Pirin World Heritage site in Bulgaria, one of the world’s most precious places, at risk of irreversible damage from the extension of Bansko ski resort and the logging of centuries’ old forests.
The decision fails to request Bulgaria to take a strategic approach toward the protection of the Outstanding Universal Value of Pirin National Park, and removes the strong measures previously included in the draft decision, with the original text severely weakened following relentless lobbying efforts by the Bulgarian government.
The World Heritage Committee’s draft decision had requested Bulgaria to undertake a full Strategic Environmental Assessment for the new management plan of Pirin National Park – in line with Bulgarian and European law and its international commitments.
“Bulgaria’s efforts to water down the draft decision are extremely disappointing,” said Katerina Rakovska, WWF-Bulgaria conservation expert. “It is a sad testament of how far our government is willing to go to protect the interests of a few at the expense of Bulgarian Heritage.”
“The decision taken today is not close to being bold enough to ensure that Pirin remains the pristine site it has been for centuries for people and nature. It is disappointing to see that 18 years after NGOs issued the first warning about the threats to Pirin, the future of this remarkable World Heritage site is still uncertain.”
Declared a World Heritage site in 1983, Pirin is home to iconic species such as brown bears, grey wolves and the lesser spotted eagle. The natural coniferous forests shelter the 1300 year-old endemic Bosnian Pine tree called Baykusheva mura – believed to be the oldest on the Balkan peninsula.
In March 2017, the Bulgarian environmental minister decided that the draft management plan for Pirin National Park did not require a Strategic Environmental Assessment. The plan permits construction on an area that is 12.5-times larger than currently permitted area and could open the park to commercial logging across nearly 60 per cent of of its area. Development of the plan has been financed by the EU. WWF and partners had appealed the government’s decision in Bulgaria’s national administrative court in 2017 and recently won in the first instance, which was welcomed by the World Heritage Centre.
“People across Bulgaria and the world are raising their voices to protect Pirin and it is high time we see strong action from the Bulgarian government to ensure a sustainable future for this unique World Heritage site,” added Ms Rakovska. “We will continue our fight to protect Pirin at the EU level and also through the Bulgarian and European court systems.”
To date, more than 125,000 people from all over the world have signed a WWF petition urging Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov to send the draft plan back for a total revamp until all of the texts that threaten nature and the livelihoods of local communities are removed.